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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life

Over the weekend news traveled quickly of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death and the heart-wrenching revelation that his 13 year old daughter died with him. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I knew my students would come Monday talking about this tragedy. So when I saw Sara Ahmed’s tweet, I took notice.

I copied Kobe’s poem Dear Basketball. We talked about Kobe, about the accident, and read aloud the poem. Later in the day, I saw a Facebook post of this video, so my last class watched the video as well.

As a writing prompt, I told my students they could write a letter to something they love or write a letter to Kobe from his basketball. This prompt worked especially well with my boys. I want to share three of my students’ poems.

Dear Kobe

From the first time  you made me
from a ball of socks
and threw me into a hoop,

I knew that you would become
one of the greatest.
I knew that you dreamt of being one of the greatest,
by how you put your heart and soul
into me,
day and night,
never resting.
You put your blood, sweat,
and tears into me.

You worked day and night,
making shot after shot
after shot after shot,
until you were finally able
to put on that Lakers jersey 
with me in your hand,
doing the thing you love the most.

I am grateful for all the
years we spent together,
but as you grow older,
your body isn’t into
running up and down the
court,
throwing the ball into the
hoop,
but I know your heart
will always be with me
forever and ever.

From Basketball

Shaelon, 6th grade

To leave comments for Shaelon, click here.

Dear Kobe,

While you pretended
to make game-winning shots,
I knew one thing:

I was meant for you.

Loving me,
giving me your hardest.

You saw me as a kid,
and you came running to me,
never turning back.

I asked for a little,
you gave me a lot.

While I called to you,
and you practiced for me,
coming my way.

The way of a legend.

But dreams
can’t last forever.

Not all at least.

You stayed with me,
and I stayed with you.

I stayed in your heart,
as you threw me in the trash,
and I knew,
you would come,
and get me out.

The trash,
was just your basket,
and our way of staying
together.

Always.

Love you,

Basketball

A.J., 6th grade

To leave comments for A.J., click here.

Dear green pen,

From the moment
I took you out of the bag
and started writing poems in a notebook
that is full of blue loose leaf,

I fell in fondness of you

I used you with my wrist to my fingers

A 12 year old boy
deeply in fondness of you
I never saw the end of the sentence
I only saw words


and so I wrote
I wrote up and down every page
after every sentence
you asked for my poems
I gave you my essays
because they are bigger.


I wrote through every cramp
not because I wanted to
but because my teacher made me

you gave this 12 year old boy a writing dream
and I am fond of you for that
but I can’t write for much longer

my teacher has to leave 
school is almost over

I’m  ready to put you back in the bag

and no matter what I write
I will always be that kid
with the pen in hand
notebook on the table
5 seconds left on the timer

5 …4 …3 …2 …1…0 and then the timer goes off 
and the pen starts going back in the bag.
Fond of you always,

-Landon

Landon, 6th grade

To leave comments for Landon, click here.

Poetry Friday: Imagine

Poetry Friday round-up is with Kathryn down under at her website.

When I started #100DaysofNotebooking with my students, I couldn’t imagine that we would be reading and writing poetry every day. But poetry is where my radar goes, and a good poetry prompt for me is also good for my kiddos.

Thanks to Ethical ELA, I had many ways to lead my students into writing this week. The prompts are still up on the website, and I highly recommend them. Writing together day by day helps me and my students to be vulnerable together. From this prompt, we wrote poems about loved ones who have passed away. My students touched me with their honesty. They had to bear with me choking up when I shared this poem about my dear friend Amy:

Amy Who
inspired by Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros

Amy who looked like Sandra Bullock
but better, whose smile glowed a mile away,
who wore a crown with grace
when she threw beads to the crowd,
whom you may call a social butterfly,
but her conversations were real; she didn’t stray
from the tough stuff, and laughed aloud
at funny happenstance,
who held my grandbaby the last time I saw her,
tears in her eyes
as she said, “I will never have this.”
Who faced cancer with wisdom,
never giving up
while knowing all the while
her body was,
who left us all missing her,
whose joy lives on,
and her smile.

Margaret Simon, draft 2020
This photo of Amy from the first Berry Queen Ball in 2008 stays on my my refrigerator.

A prompt from Teach this Poem led me to a video of “Imagine” by John Lennon. Sadly, most of my students didn’t even know who he was, much less the song. But this freshness caused them to be open and creative in their writing.

The world
breaking into countries
some people can only imagine
while others can do something.
We would want our world
to be like clouds in the sky
staying together
to make a huge crowd
shouting and singing.
They contain heaven
where everyone lives in peace
not separating their clouds.
We don’t want our world to
turn into nothing

Jaden, 4th grade
Photo from PIxabay

No reason,
to kill or
die for.
Imagine,
I might be called a dreamer,
but there are others
who think the same.
I hope some day…
you’ll join us,
a brotherhood of man…
No need
for greed or
hunger.
Imagine us
all living and loving,

                      -together

Daniel, 5th grade

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Warning: This is another shameless Grandmother post. I received a wonderful gift from a friend, “Letters to My Grandchild”. It’s a little book with envelopes to tuck letters into. I love this idea because those books that you write in intimidate me. What if I mess up? This little book is just envelopes, so I can do multiple drafts before I place them into the book. Thanks, Dani!

I’ve been reading Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes. This book will tug at your heartstrings as Nikki overcame a terrible childhood bouncing around in foster homes and facing her mother’s alcoholism and schizophrenia. The memoir is constructed with poems and notebook entries. Each poem is a poem in and of itself. Because of this, I can share poems from the book with my students without having to read the whole book to them. The content can be too tough for my young students.

On Thursday last week, I shared the poem “The Mystery of Memory #3”.

Think food,
and nourishment
comes to mind,
but we all know
it’s so much more.
One bite of pineapple,
and my tongue sticks
to the roof of memory,
gluing me to the last moment
I savored a slice of
pineapple upside-down cake
at my grandmother’s kitchen table.

To read the complete poem, read Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

One of my poems came out as another grandmother joy poem.

Think baby,
and crying comes to mind,
that piercing sound
first heard as life.
But we all know
it’s so much more.
So many firsts–
first bath
first smile
first step
first word.

When you send me a picture
or video text, my heart
swells with joy.
Something new,
something yours,
now mine.
A tiny finger
wraps around my finger
tingling with love.

Margaret Simon, after Nikki Grimes
A gummy Thomas smile to warm your heart.

My second grader Rylee is not yet worried about line breaks, but she heard the rhythm and sentiment of Nikki’s poem and wrote this (hands off from me) in her notebook.

by Rylee, 2nd grade

With line breaks by me:

Think
of you
buying a cake saver
for your mom,
and she’s going to open it,
then she knows what it is.
She likes it,
then she is so happy
that she bakes
a cake.

Rylee, 2nd grade
Joining the link up for It’s Monday, What are you Reading? At Teach Mentor Texts.

I’m a member of our local (as well as national) SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). In this organization, I am able to meet some wonderful authors. A few years ago I met Leslie Helakoski at ALA or NCTE, not sure which, and found out that her mother lives in our area, and she dances to Cajun and Zydeco music. Turns out, I know her mother from our dancing circle. Small world.

Leslie was involved with the SCBWI in her home state of Michigan. Well, lucky us, she is now splitting her time between the two states, Michigan and Louisiana. She has taught a few picture book workshops in our area, and I greatly admire her talent. Not to mention, she is a very nice person, too.

Leslie’s latest release is as sweet a story as she is. Are Your Stars Like My Stars? is a picture book about colors. No, it’s a book about friendship. No, it’s a book about diversity. All in one, Leslie’s rhyming verse asks the question, “Is your blue like my blue?” Leading us to see through the eyes of a child that we can all see things differently, and that is the best thing of all.

With engaging art from Heidi Woodward Sheffield, any child will be entranced by the coloring book collage style.

Do you splash in a puddle
when the world is washed clean?
Are the leaves fresh and bright?

Is your green…
… like my green?

Leslie Helakoski

You can find out more about Leslie’s books here. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, @helakoskibooks. If you are in Lafayette, LA on Saturday, January 25th, come by Barnes and Noble and get a personal signed copy.

Poetry Friday: Crossing

Poetry Friday round-up is with my friend and critique partner, Catherine Flynn.

In my school email inbox, I get a weekly poetry lesson from Poets.org. called Teach this Poem. I don’t do these every week because the intended audience is middle and high school, and my students are elementary. But this week the author’s bio drew my attention. Jericho Brown is from Shreveport, Louisiana, a native to our state.

In the lesson, students were to identify a picture from the Library of Congress of the March on Washington. Enough of my students know about MLK, Jr. that they understood what they were seeing. Relating the poem to the march was a stretch for them, however.

Nevertheless, we wrote after Jericho Brown.

The water is one thing, and one thing for miles.
The water is one thing, making this bridge
Built over the water another. Walk it
Early, walk it back when the day goes dim, everyone
Rising just to find a way toward rest again.

Read the rest here.

Jericho Brown, Poets.org

My poem became one of address to Jericho Brown.

We have crossed the line,
that imaginary space between
you and me, a wall covered in vines.
Tearing at the weeds, I find a flower–
morning glory. Help us, Jericho, to see
the flower in the weeds, the flame
inside a rainbow, crossing over
barriers to a place
where we can all leap together.

Margaret Simon, draft 2020
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I saw the tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts from Michelle Haseltine, and I said, “No!” I don’t need another group to join, another challenge to conquer, anything else to do! Just. Say. No.

That “no” lasted a few days, but the more posts I saw, the more I realized that this was the perfect thing to rejuvenate writing in my life and in my classroom.

Last year at NCTE 2018, I attended a notebooking workshop (wrote about it here) with Michelle and others. I came home inspired to make a commitment to notebooking in my classroom. At the end of the year on a field trip bus, I overheard one of my students talk to another one from a different school. She said, “I love notebook writing. Do you?”

Somehow things got in the way this school year. So the #100daysofnotebooking was just the thing I needed to bring out the notebooks again. We wrote every day last week.

I printed out this page, so we could keep a count of the days.

The notebook writing takes about 20 minutes in each of my three classes. I begin with some sort of prompt. We write to the Insight Timer set to 7 minutes. Then we share. Some of my students post their writing on our class blog, but this is not required.

Watching the Facebook page is inspiring (or daunting, depending on your point of view as some posts are very creative), but there is room for every type of notebooker. I’m enjoying trying out collage, writing to poetry, and word collecting.

As we continue, I’ll know more about how my students are growing their writing skills. Right now the routine of it is working. They look forward to the time to write, the time to draw, and the time to be themselves on the page.

Here’s a gallery walk of some of our pages:

Jaden was inspired by a poem by Nikki Grimes, Journey from Ordinary Hazards.
Notebook time leads to Flow, the concept that time disappears while we are immersed in a creative activity.

Karson’s One Little Word notebook page.
Breighlynn’s poem in response to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem The Pie of Kindness.
I am linking up today to It’s Monday, What are you Reading on Jen Vincent’s site, Teach Mentor Texts. Click on the image to find more blog Kidlit reviews.

With new grandsons to read aloud to, I have taken an interest in books that have rhythmic, poetic language. The words have to go quickly as Leo’s favorite part is turning the page. Buffy Silverman’s new release is just this kind of book. With quick rhyming verse, she takes us through a snow-melting day.

In my part of the world, South Louisiana, we do not get much snow. Yet, we have chickadees at the feeder all winter long. With lively and sharp photographs and bouncing, rhythmic language, we can learn about places that have a distinct seasonal change. Grand sons can point to the cardinal swooping, the rabbits bouncing, and the foxes pouncing.

On a Snow-Melting Day releases on February 4th, 2020. Hop into a delightful book on a marsh mucking, duck dapping day.